Whoosh! Issue 29 - February 1999


An Interview With Chris Manheim



THE QUEST

Has the WHOOSH! guy been skulking about again?  I'll whack him next time I
see him.


Mike Levine took on the complex but rewarding job of directing THE QUEST.


RUDNICK:
[84] The episode next on the list, THE QUEST (37/213), is hands down my favourite episode in the entire series. It's no secret among people I've talked to who were associated with it. I'm sorry it had to come about as the result of Lucy's accident, but the result that came out of it was just phenomenal.

MANHEIM:
[85] We did the best we could. Thank God this show is set up the way it is, because I don't know how many shows would survive such a thing. MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211) came about partly because of that because Lucy [Lawless] couldn't fight much. THE QUEST (37/213) is a great show, no doubt. I always think of the biggies like the China episodes [THE DEBT (52-53/306-307) as being people's favorites because visually they're sumptuous.

RUDNICK:
[86] They are, no question. They're like feature films. For THE QUEST (37/213), did you all have separate sections you worked on or did you all sit down and suss it out together?

MANHEIM:
[87] I remember that we sat down and worked out the story, then everyone took an act. Steve took it and conformed everything so it became one solid episode. I think I had the teaser and first act. I think Steve did an incredible job bringing it all together. But what do they say, "Necessity is the mother of invention." That certainly seemed to be the case in all those "Lucy Lite" shows.

RUDNICK:
[88] Of course it had Amazons...

MANHEIM:
[89] Never a ratings loser.

RUDNICK:
[90] Certainly not with me.

MANHEIM:
[91] [laughs]

RUDNICK:
[92] Also it had Bruce Campbell and Renee [O'Connor] stepped up as a very strong Gabrielle. It's one of the great crimes that we will be denied the naked Amazon hot tub scene that got cut out of the final version, but what can I say?

MANHEIM:
[93] [laughs]



A COMEDY OF EROS

I'll be happy to cut off the flow of blood to your brain if that
will help, Joxer


Ted Raimi delivers some fine moments in A COMEDY OF EROS.


RUDNICK:
[94] Now A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222) that came next, had one of the strongest moments for the Joxer character. Joxer brings up a lot of emotions in people. They seem to really like him or really dislike him.

MANHEIM:
[95] [smiles] That's what I understand.

RUDNICK:
[96] For me, I kinda like him. Depending on what he's in, sometimes I *really* like him. In this episode he came off as a very strong character.

MANHEIM:
[97] It's that ending that helps. It gives him a depth that, up until that point, he hadn't really displayed. If I did anything good, it was the ending. [laughs]

RUDNICK:
[98] One of my favorite lines in the series is his "Ha ha" at the very end, where he's very emotional. That was a very fine moment for him, I thought.

MANHEIM:
[99] He did a lovely job, he didn't do too much. That's my big fear. It takes a deft kind of touch so that you don't get maudlin over it but you make your point. He did a lovely job. Everybody did. They had a good time doing it. I know Lucy really likes Jay, the actor playing Draco. They're very comfortable with each other. All of that worked just great. It's a personal favorite. Even the double entendres and things came off.

RUDNICK:
[100] I was going to say, again, you get handed all the subtext stuff. You get that near miss between Xena and Gabrielle with Cupid's arrow...

MANHEIM:
[101] [laughs] Yeah. A lot of fun to do. We kind of backpedaled a lot on all that [subtext]. I don't know whether it's getting read in no matter what we write, but I think we've said "Ah, we've had our run at that," and just concentrate on other aspects of their relationship. Whatever people read into it they do.

RUDNICK:
[102] It would be fair to say on a conscious level you're not placing it in there as much as you once were, but whatever happens to shine through is okay.

MANHEIM:
[103] Exactly. You can only do that so much before it gets to be old hat and kind of tired. I think as long as we concentrate on the relationship, whatever that involves, however people choose to interpret it, that's perfectly up to them.

RUDNICK:
[104] At the very least, Xena and Gabrielle's relationship is one of intense friendship and wherever you want to go with that is up to you.

MANHEIM:
[105] Exactly.



MATERNAL INSTINCTS

But it's an excuse to toast marshmallows!


The issue of killing children was delicately handled in MATERNAL INSTINCTS.


RUDNICK:
[106] Now we come to MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311) which is at the other end of the spectrum. Now you've got this heavy drama going.

MANHEIM:
[107] Isn't it great? I just love that I can go from farce to melodrama in the space of a series.

RUDNICK:
[108] Did you feel any particular pressure to perform in that particular episode? You had really heavy-duty characters in there like Callisto and you have the Hope character to deal with.

MANHEIM:
[109] I was a little nervous about writing Callisto because I had never written her before. But she came pretty easily. She's such a strong character. R.J. created this incredibly strong character and I really understood her point of view on things. I wanted you to be able to believe that Gabrielle would want to have feelings for this evil Hope character and that she could be fooled by her. Even when Gabrielle knows she's evil she could be swayed. It's that back and forth, back and forth. That was interesting. It was also a hard episode to write. You're killing kids. I noticed they played it again at Christmas and I thought "Well isn't that a treat."

RUDNICK:
[110] An uplifting holiday show.

MANHEIM:
[111] I couldn't believe it! I thought they were going to run A SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209) again. Killing kids made me a little nervous to say the least. I made a strong effort not to show anything on camera in terms of the kids' death. That I think would have been beyond the pale, and there was no need. All you needed to know was the emotional reaction because of the deaths. You didn't need to see them die. That was a really tough show to write. But it was a very satisfying show. I thought everyone delivered.



THE BITTER SUITE

Going the distance for a detergent commercial


Complex as well as controversial in spots, THE BITTER SUITE was a monumental effort.


RUDNICK:
[112] Out of the frying pan, into the fire with THE BITTER SUITE (58/312).

MANHEIM:
[113] [laughs]

RUDNICK:
[114] People have literally written books on this episode. There's tons of symbolism, tarot imagery, and so forth.

MANHEIM:
[115] All of which you can credit to Rob [Tapert]. He wanted to do it in tarot, that was his vision of it all along. Steve [Sears] and I bought books on the tarot and we delved into it. It's confusing for people to follow. Musicals are difficult to follow. You rely so much on the lyrics to tell you what is normally said in dialogue. I think our lyricists did a great job, but I also think at times it's a confusing episode to follow.

RUDNICK:
[116] It is one of those episodes you don't mind seeing parts of several times and there's a lot to see and hear. I'm sure you've heard about debates regarding the so-called "Gab-Drag". I've heard Steve comment that the reason why that was done was to drive home a certain point, but originally, it wasn't thought people would get that point so quickly. He thought perhaps the Gab-Drag might have gone on a bit longer that he would have liked. I was curious to know how you felt about it.

MANHEIM:
[117] Having just seen it recently, I thought it was pretty intense. I understand it from an emotional point of view, but it's hard to watch. I don't like making TV that people find difficult to watch. I don't mind them getting churned up emotionally, but when you're cringing, I don't know that that's a good thing.

RUDNICK:
[118] Did you accomplish everything you set out to accomplish with that episode?

MANHEIM:
[119] I hope so. I honestly am not sure. In my mind, the rift arc is settled, but I don't know if others feel that the episode satisfactorily delivered that.

RUDNICK:
[120] It's kind of like getting a big electric shock. You're not sure if you approach that thing again you'll get zapped or not.

MANHEIM:
[121] Yeah, and there's so much to resolve and a matter of balance. Is her lie equal to what Gabrielle did, and so forth. I'm not sure we ended up with a balanced episode. It was very difficult, a tough assignment.

RUDNICK:
[122] Did you write some of the lyrics as well?

MANHEIM:
[123] I wrote a few. But mainly it was the lyricists that Joe [LoDuca] hired.



KING CON

RUDNICK:
[124] Now we have KING CON (61/315), an homage to The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973).

MANHEIM:
[125] [laughs] What was hard was coming up with that first con on Joxer.

RUDNICK:
[126] Although there are a number of fans who may not think highly of the Joxer character, I did hear a lot of people say "Wow, maybe it was going a bit far beating him to a pulp like that."

MANHEIM:
[127] It surprised me when I looked at dailies as to how graphic they got. But at the same time you really had to sell the idea that Xena just wouldn't say "To h*ll with this town, I don't care whether they gamble or not," and just walk away. That was the rationale used in the severity of this beating. He had to be so hurt that she had to steel herself to square things about it. It was pretty graphic, wasn't it? But it served its purpose.



TSUNAMI

Are we there yet?


Close quarters and lengthy sessions immersed in water made for a difficult time on the set of TSUNAMI.


RUDNICK:
[128] Then there's TSUNAMI (65/319), the homage to The Poseidon Adventure (Ronald Neame, 1972).

MANHEIM:
[129] [laughs] Although some people are too young to remember that film. I couldn't believe it, I thought everyone was going to get that. People in their 20's didn't remember it. But yes, that's definitely what it was.

RUDNICK:
[130] I thought this was a very good episode, and I especially liked the performance of Todd Rippon as Macon.

MANHEIM:
[131] He was fun to write. It was a fun show to write. I don't think it was anyone's favorite episode to work on because of the conditions. Here I was thinking I was doing everyone a big favor because it was the height of their summer and I thought "It'll be hot, they'll like getting in water." Yeah, right. [laughs] It was cold and nasty, so it wasn't hot. And being wet all day is no fun.

RUDNICK:
[132] I heard there was an accident involving one of those water tanks. It collapsed or burst.

MANHEIM:
[133] Fortunately they weren't shooting on that stage, they were shooting next door. There was one carpenter or plumber working there, and he ended up getting pushed into a bathroom by the force of the water. I think he was banged up but otherwise unhurt.



A FAMILY AFFAIR

We need to talk about deoderant


Hope comforts her Destroyer child in A FAMILY AFFAIR.


RUDNICK:
[134] Then we have A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403). I've heard a lot of people say they liked it. What makes it work for me was the Destroyer character was played very compellingly.

MANHEIM:
[135] I really like that too, and I must say, that was Liz [Friedman]. The point was to make you care about the monster. She saw a film where that was the case.

RUDNICK:
[136] I felt that way about the original Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931).

MANHEIM:
[137] And King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933), too. It's not like it hasn't been done before. But this worked out really nicely. I thought the director did a nice job too. I liked the scene with Hope and her Monster Child. I thought of The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962). I remembered Angela [Landsbury]'s role as someone who loved her child but had an agenda. I looked at that before I went out and wrote that scene. She was a loving but calculated mother. I felt like we needed one more setup to get the whole Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991) thing right. I thought people might be confused without one more shot, I forget where it is exactly. Did you find it confusing when the real Gabrielle shows up and Hope is in the forest as well, and Joxer is following Hope while Xena follows the real Gabrielle?

RUDNICK:
[138] I have to admit, the first time I saw it, I was a bit confused.

MANHEIM:
[139] Yeah, I think we needed one more shot to make it a little clearer. It was Liz' idea to 'homage' that sequence from Silence of the Lambs. That's what we were attempting to do.



Rest of the Fourth Season

RUDNICK:
[140] I know a lot of people thought Season Three was a wild ride, but Season Four seems to be tamer. Do you expect that trend to continue? Do you expect fallout from the rift to continue?

MANHEIM:
[141] I think the rift has been resolved. Now it's more about who they are individually and how they work together. At the end of A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403) we talk a little bit about how up until now Gabrielle had always followed Xena and that had been enough. But now Gabrielle is wondering who she is and what her individual destiny is. That's what we're exploring now. How can you be an individual in a partnership? Everyone who's married faces that, and even close friends do. There will be more caring and an attempt to be more up front with each other. They are taking care to be honest with each other, even if that hurts sometimes. Especially for Gabrielle this season, they're on a spiritual quest. But Xena comes on the scene with this too, especially in the India episodes.



DEVI

RUDNICK:
[142] I don't want you to give too much away. I do know you have two more episodes you've written that will air soon, PARADISE FOUND (81/413) and DEVI (82/414). Was DEVI originally conceived under another name?

MANHEIM:
[143] [laughs] I think the crew in New Zealand must hate me. For some reason, I think it has to do with setting up for production, they don't like it when you change titles, and I change titles like I would a hat. As I do rewrites and things change, the title doesn't fit the episode. TSUNAMI (65/319) was all kinds of titles before we settled on TSUNAMI. DEVI (82/414) started out as SMOKE AND MIRRORS, then it was KASHATRIA, then it went to DEVATA, then it went to DEVI where it stayed. As we developed the Eli character, and as I learned more about India, things changed. You'll get a lot more about the spiritual questing in PARADISE FOUND (81/413), and DEVI too. PARADISE FOUND kind of kicks into the India series and DEVI really starts it off.

RUDNICK:
[144] The only other thing I'll ask about the India episodes is might we learn about the origin of Xena's weapon, since the chakram is from India?

MANHEIM:
[145] No. We were looking in a book on Indian mythology and there was a god who was throwing a chakram, decapitating someone, actually. We asked Rob "Is this where it came from?" I don't know whether Rob credits the Indian mythology or not. An origin story for the chakram has been kicked around, but we've never really found the right slot to put it in. So you won't be seeing it anytime soon.

RUDNICK:
[146] Certainly a lot to look forward to. Thank you very much for your time.

MANHEIM:
[147] It's nice to be asked!



Biography

Bret Rudnick Bret Rudnick
Whoosh! Staff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)


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